Baker, baker, bake me an anti-gay cake

I’ve written previously about anti-gay bakers who refused to make cakes for LGBT customers, claiming that it would infringe upon their religious liberty. Well now the religious right (footnote 1) by asking LGBT-friendly bakers to make cakes with anti-gay messages on them. When the bakers refuse, the so-called customers claim religious discrimination.

There’s a clear difference between the two sides here. The anti-gay bakers are refusing to make cakes based on who the customers are. The customers aren’t asking for any offensive messages to be put on the cakes.

On the other hand, the anti-LGBT side isn’t being refused because of who they are. They’re being refused because of the offensive message they want on the cakes. As the BuzzFeed article points out that the baker wasn’t promoting an anti-Christian viewpoint at all, and would happily bake a cake shaped like a bible.

By trying to portray themselves as the victims of discrimination, the right wing merely shines a light on the true victims — the LGBT community.

Footnote
1. Or, as I like to call them, the American Taliban.

Publix: A sign of things to come? (Probably not)

Publix Super Markets (which I have written about in the past) got a lot of applause from the LGBT community here in the South last month when it announced that it would begin offering spousal benefits to married same-sex couples.

Me in Publix, once again

Me in Publix, once again

It’s good news, to be sure, and my husband and I have even started shopping at Publix again (footnote 1). However, I wish this were a progressive move on on Publix’s part, not a defensive one. My contention is that Publix didn’t change its policy to be more fair to its LGBT employees, but because it didn’t want to find itself in court.

Imagine this: two Publix associates (one straight, one gay) get married. If Publix decides to offer spousal benefits to one employee and not to the other, isn’t that discrimination? Remember, these are spousal benefits, which nearly every major company offers, not domestic partner benefits, which are increasingly commonplace yet optional.

I asked my lawyer friends on Facebook whether Publix would be setting itself up for legal action by offering spousal benefits to some employees and not others, and there was not a lot of consensus. Some lawyers said that employers cannot discriminate against some marriages, while other says that companies can determine who does and doesn’t receive benefits. Since there’s some confusion, it’s likely that this issue will find its way to the courts — and Publix, a company very concerned with its public image, doesn’t want to be the target of a discrimination lawsuit.

Publix isn't touting the news on its corporate website

Publix isn’t touting the news on its corporate website

Whatever Publix’s reason for offering spousal benefits to all associates, I don’t think this move predicts a shift toward a more tolerant company. For one thing, Publix is clearly ashamed of its new policy, as it didn’t even announce it. Look at the company’s website and you’ll see that this news wasn’t even worthy of a press release.

For another, Publix hasn’t made any other overtures toward its LGBT employees and customers. It remains to be seen if the company will participate in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (footnote 2). I still don’t think Publix has a LGBT employee resource group, nor do I think the company is in any rush to begin one. And I certainly don’t think that Publix is going to reach out to LGBT customers by sponsoring LGBT-friendly events, such as Pride or the Tampa Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

Publix has taken an important first step, and I don’t want to minimize the importance of the company treating all its employees equally. What disappoints me is that Publix hasn’t indicated that it’s going to take any more steps in this direction. Prove me wrong, Publix!

Footnotes
1. Reluctantly
2. Publix regularly scores a zero because it doesn’t participate.

Shame on Saks! (Updated)

Until recently, chichi retailer Saks Fifth Avenue scored 90 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. That score is now in jeopardy, as Saks filed a legal brief that says it’s free to break its own anti-discrimination policies and not defend a transgender employee who claims discrimination and workplace harassment.

From the HRC:

Leyth Jamal, a transgender former employee of Saks, filed an employment discrimination lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 alleging discrimination and harassment/hostile work environment based on her gender identity. In a motion to dismiss the case and in stark contrast to clearly established positions of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Saks astoundingly claimed that the “Plaintiff’s discrimination and harassment claims fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because transsexuals are not a protected class under Title VII.” Additionally, Saks goes on to claim that they are not bound by their own corporate non-discrimination policies because “employee handbooks are not contracts as a matter of law.”

This is the sort of behavior I’d expect from a Cracker Barrel or Chick-fil-A, not from a retailer with a very good record of treating its employees with dignity and respect. There’s no Saks Fifth Avenue in my hometown any more (footnote 1), but if there were, I wouldn’t be spending any of my money there.

Update
Saks has backed down and now says the Civil Rights Act protects transgender people.

Footnote
1. The space once occupied by Saks Fifth Avenue is now a Dick’s Sporting Goods. Which is appropriate, because with this anti-LGBT move, Saks has become a dick.

The relationship between LGBT people and GDP

A new study suggests that acceptance and strong protections for LGBT people promote economic growth in developing countries. The study, conducted by the U.S. Agency for International Development and UCLA’s School of Law, looked at 29 countries with varying records of treating LGBT people. The study concludes that countries that have decriminalized same-sex acts and enacted anti-discrimination laws have a per capita GDP of $1,763 more than countries that still discriminate.

A good reminder that LGBT equality isn’t just good for business — it’s good for the economy too.

I didn’t think it was possible to love Tim Cook any more — and then he does this! [Updated]

Tim Cook, the Apple CEO who grew up in a rural town in Alabama (footnote 1), took the entire state of Alabama to task for moving too slowly on LGBT rights. From the Montgomery Advertiser:

“As a state, we took too long to take steps toward equality,” said to a crowd gathered in the Old House Chamber at the Alabama State Capitol. “We were too slow on equality for African-Americans. We were too slow on interracial marriage. And we are still too slow on equality for the LGBT community.”

Alabama’s governor and many state officials were in the audience. Let’s hope they heard the message (footnote 3).

Update

There’s video:

Footnotes
1. Like my husband. The rural town in Alabama part, not the Apple CEO part (footnote 2).
2. Could you imagine! I’d be wearing my Apple Watch right now.
3. You can get fired in Alabama for being gay. The same thing is sadly true in my state.

It’s time for UT to boot Chick-fil-A

Let’s make two things perfectly clear.

First, Chick-fil-A has every right to sell their chicken sandwiches.

Second, Chick-fil-A also has every right to support organizations that demean, devalue, and discriminate against human beings – to be, in effect, the Rick Santorum of the restaurant industry.

Few people would argue with that first statement, as there are few fast food concoctions as tasty as the Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich. A fried chicken breast and some pickle chips, served on a hot buttery bun, with a side of waffle fries and Polynesian sauce – I’m salivating just thinking about it (footnote 1).

Many people are unhappy with the second statement, and I’m one of them. However, it’s a fact of American life. People, and organizations, are allowed to donate money wherever they like. Chick-fil-A is a privately owned company, unaccountable to shareholders or the public in the way that McDonald’s or Burger King is. The company can give its money to whatever organization it deems fit. So can its owners.

The question we must wrestle with today doesn’t have to do with Chick-fil-A’s food or its charitable practices, but whether the company deserves a spot on the University of Tampa campus. I say no, it does not, because Chick-fil-A’s actions and values are opposed to those of the university.

At Chick-fil-A, your dollars pay for discrimination. Chick-fil-A’s WinShape Foundation supports many evangelical organizations that discriminate against gay, lesbian, and transgender people. According to multiple sources, WinShape has given more than $3 million to anti-gay groups since 2003. The groups include the so-called Family Research Council, which states on its website that being gay “… is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed,” and “It is by definition unnatural.”

Chick-fil-A doesn’t just discriminate against gay, lesbian, and transgender people. The New York Times reported in 2011 that Chick-fil-A routinely donates money for scholarships and foster homes – but only ones that espouse Christian values. That means that if you’re Jewish, Chick-fil-A doesn’t think you’re worthy of a college scholarship.

Shocked? You should be. Other companies don’t make discrimination a part of their philanthropic efforts. Imagine if McDonald’s decided that only Christians could stay at the Ronald McDonald house!

With such values, what message is Chick-fil-A sending to me, a Jewish, gay, married man? I envision a targeted advertising campaign for Jews in which cows hold placards that say “Eat mor chiken but yoo must konvert be4 we reespekt yoo.” Or one for the LGBT community: “Yoo don’t deeerve eekual rites. Eat mor chiken.”

I’ve already stated that Chick-fil-A, as a private company, has the right to do whatever it wants with its money.

But UT is also a private organization. And UT is better than Chick-fil-A.

UT doesn’t “discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, handicap, religion, sexual orientation, or national or ethnic origin.” That’s in quotes because it’s lifted directly from UT’s student handbook. UT extends this non-discrimination policy to all areas of campus life. It applies “to the design and operation of any of our programs, policies, or activities.”

As a private institution, UT can choose what businesses it does business with – and, more importantly, what businesses it wants to be associated with. By allowing Chick-fil-A on campus, UT is telling its students, staff, faculty, and guests that it doesn’t mind hosting a company that thumbs its nose at the school’s values, ethics, and morals. Every Chick-fil-A sandwich sold on campus is another knock on UT’s reputation.

Let’s make a third thing perfectly clear: UT is not required to give space to Chick-fil-A. There’s no Fairness in Fast Food act that requires UT, as a landlord, to roll over whenever a restaurant wants to do business on campus. If there were, Chick-fil-A’s presence might not be so egregious.

So, what does the university need to do?

First, it needs to say farewell to Chick-fil-A. Yes, there are probably contracts that need to be unravelled. But it’s a mistake for Chick-fil-A to do business at UT, and that mistake needs to be remedied as quickly as possible. Chick-fil-A can buy or lease its own real estate elsewhere.

Second, the school needs to adopt a stronger anti-discrimination policy. It’s not enough that the school tells students, staff, and faculty that they can’t discriminate. It needs to tell vendors – the firms that do business with UT – that if they discriminate, they can’t have UT’s business. The school can earn its money any way it wants – why should it take money from businesses that think some UT students, faculty, and staff aren’t as worthy of human rights as other ones?

If a company wants to give all of its profits to organizations that work against women, or minorities, or the LGBT community, then so be it. But that company has no business being in business at UT.

Footnote
1. For the record, McDonald’s makes a really good Southern-style chicken sandwich.

Publix’s dirty little secret: It doesn’t care about LGBT people

There are companies that embrace gay customers (footnote 1). There are companies that actively work against or overtly discriminate against gay customers (footnote 2). And, in the middle, there is Publix Super Markets, which simply ignores gay customers. That’s just offensive.

The 84-year-old grocery chain, which operates in the Southeast, has a cult-like following. Ask any customer about Publix, and you’re sure to hear about cleanliness, convenience, and the chicken tender sub sandwiches. Publix has won numerous awards, including Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

But, as my husband and I discovered last year, Publix scores a big fat zero in the Human Rights Campaign’s Buying for Workplace Equality guide. Zero. Not a low score — no score at all. That means only one of two things: Publix has draconian, archaic laws about LGBT employees, or it doesn’t think enough of LGBT employees and customers to participate.

I tweeted Publix a few months ago to ask which it was. They said they simply decline to participate in the survey because they’re asked to participate in too many surveys.

Of course a company like Publix is asked to participate in a lot of surveys. And it clearly does participate in a lot of surveys — otherwise it wouldn’t have won all those awards. But what does it say to LGBT customers when the company declines to participate in a survey about LGBT workplace equality? It means that the company doesn’t care about them.

I followed up my original tweet with one asking if Publix includes sexual orientation in its workplace discrimination policy. It said that yes, it did. Then I asked if they had domestic partner benefits for LGBT employees.

The answer is perplexing: Publix says it doesn’t have domestic partner benefits because it doesn’t operate in any states with marriage equality —

This only proves that Publix doesn’t understand the entire point behind domestic partner benefits. Forward-thinking companies began embracing these benefits for the explicit reason that their LGBT employees could not get married. These employees work just as hard, so why should they get fewer benefits? It’s like paying LGBT employees less for the same work. Apparently, no one in Publix’s HR department understands this. (If someone at Publix is indeed reading this, they should check out the HRC’s domestic partner benefits primer.)

If Publix refuses to participate in a LGBT survey, and it doesn’t offer domestic partner benefits, what else does the company do to ignore LGBT employees and customers? Does it offer an LGBT employee resource group? (Probably not.) Does it contribute to LGBT causes? (Again, I would guess not.) Does it participate in LGBT events? (I haven’t seen the Publix logo at St. Pete Pride or the Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.)

Publix is sending a clear message to its LGBT customers: “We simply don’t care about you.” And that’s a shortsighted approach for a company that’s trying to grow. LGBT adults represent $830 billion in spending power, and study after study shows that given a choice they will spend that money with companies that embrace their values.

My husband and I stopped shopping at Publix a while ago. And, you know what, we’ve found other grocery stores that are clean, convenient, and make delicious subs (footnote 3). Not all of these places score highly on the HRC survey, but at least they care enough about their LGBT customers and employees to participate (footnote 4).

Footnotes

1. Like American Airlines
2. Like Chick-fil-A, or this company.
3. And we have saved a lot of money. Publix isn’t known for its low prices.
4. Soon, Publix will be forced to offer equal benefits to its LGBT employees. Marriage equality is sweeping the nation. It will come last to the South, but it is definitely coming here. When it happens, Publix can no longer claim it won’t offer equal benefits because it operates in states without marriage equality!

Tears of a Klein

I don’t feel sorry at all for Aaron and Melissa Klein. The owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Oregon were brought to tears recently at a right-wing summit, after explaining that they were fined $150,000 for refusing to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

You see, Sweet Cakes promises on its website that “Cake is what makes the day special whatever you are celebrating, birthday, baby shower, wedding, bridal shower, anniversary, holidays, or just having a special dinner with special people.” They might as well add “Unless you’re gay or lesbian, in which case you don’t deserve cake at all because we believe you’re twisted and perverted.”

Of course Sweet Cakes deserved its fine. When companies open to the public, they’re open to the entire public. They can’t pick and choose which customers they serve. We, as a country, have tried that before. It wasn’t long ago that restaurants relegated African-Americans to lunch counters, only serving white people at tables (footnote 1).

What if Sweet Cakes had refused to make a wedding cake because the customers were an interracial couple? Or because they were Jewish or Muslim? To me, it’s all the same thing — discrimination. The Kleins might cite their religious beliefs, but that’s no excuse for treating customers unfairly.

The only problem with this fine is that it’s not big enough. There should be no leniency for those who would refuse service to others because of their prejudices (footnote 2).

Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

Footnotes
1. When my husband was growing up in rural Alabama, he lived near a Dairy Queen that wouldn’t even let African-Americans in the door. They could only get service at a walk-up window.
2. When my husband and I got married, it never even dawned upon us that someone would refuse service to us. Idea never crossed our minds. Every single vendor we approached was genuinely excited to work with us, as they had never done a same-sex reception before.